Wednesday 15 June 2011

Christian CD seizure: July 12 decision on witness call

The Appellate and Special Powers division of the High Court in Kuala Lumpur will decide on July 12 whether to call former home minister Syed Hamid Albar for cross-examination and to provide documents on the seizure of Christian religious CDs.

Justice Rohana Yusof fixed the date after hearing submissions from Jill Ireland's counsel Annou Xavier and Lim Heng Seng, and senior federal counsel Arik Sanusi, Azizan Md Arshad and Andi Razali Jaya, who represented the home minister and the government.

Annou said they wanted to know why the directive was issued by the ministry and a senior customs officer to seize the CDs.

azlanThey wanted to cross-examine Syed Hamid on why the CDs were deemed a threat to national security, how it breached the Islamic Advancement Department (Jakim) guidelines, and how the word 'Allah' could cause confusion when it had been widely used since the 17th century and by non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak as well.

Furthermore, Annou said, they wanted details on the 1986 cabinet directive that declared the term 'Allah' is for the exclusive use of Muslims.

Sabah and Sarawak has been part of Malaysia since 1963, when both states received their independence from the British and joined the federation.

Jill, a Christian bumiputera, is challenging the Home Ministry's seizure of eight religious CDs from her at the KL International Airport in 2008, after she flew in from Jakarta, because they had the word 'Allah' printed on the covers.

The ministry claimed the CDs threatened security as the usage of the prohibited word ('Allah') breached Jakim guidelines.

Apart from an unspecified sum in damages, Jill is also seeking an order of certiorari to quash the ministry's directive to confiscate the CDs, and their return.

She is also seeking several declarations that:
  • She can use the word 'Allah', as well as own, use and import materials with the word in exercising her religious freedom because Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using 'Allah' for centuries;
  • Under Article 11 of the federal constitution, she is allowed to use and import publications to practise her religion; and,
  • There should be no discrimination on issues pertaining to religion under Article 8.
On May, 2009, High Court judge Alizatul Khair Osman allowed Jill to obtain leave (permission to open the case) for judicial review.

Jill, in her supporting affidavit, claimed that certain parts of 'Al-Kitab Bahasa Indonesia' and 'Al-Kitab Bahasa Malaysia' clearly show that the word 'Allah' has been used for a long time by the Christian community.

She also contended that the 'Kitab Perjanjian Baharu' (The New Testament) in Malay, published by the British and Foreign Bible Society as early as 1949, shows the use of 'Allah' in Malay-language Bibles.

'No need to call minister'

However, Arik today submitted there was no need to call the former minister for clarification as the cabinet directive barring the use of the word 'Allah' and three other words was clear.

“Furthermore, the confiscation was made out of national security and public interest,” he said, adding that the ministry had taken pre-emptive action in seizing the CDs.

syed hamid albar exclusive interview larger pix 231008 04Another government counsel, Azizan, said the court should take note of Syed Hamid's (right) affidavit, in which it was pointed out that High Court judge Lau Bee Lan's decision on the Allah issue had caused a public outcry, resulting in the desecration of Christian places of worship and also the attacks on other places of worship.

“This is something which the government wants to prevent from happening,” he said.

Arik also said the application by Ireland was made out of time, that is 15 months after leave was granted and that no reasons were given.

“By this reason alone, the application should have been struck out,” he said.

The word 'Allah' has been a source of contention among Malaysians, especially after the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 31, 2009, declared as illegal the ban by the Home Ministry on the usage of 'Allah' in the Catholic Church publication, Herald.

Besides 'Allah', the other words which non-Muslims cannot use are 'Baitullah', 'Solat', and 'Kaabah'.

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